If nothing else, “Snow White and the Huntsman” shows there’s more than one way to screw up the Snow White story. “Mirror Mirror,” just two months ago, sprinkled the classic fairy tale with snarky pop culture references, to less than stellar results.
A revisionist fairy tale in the other direction, ‘Huntsman’ makes an even worse choice- turning the myth into a swashbuckling adventure that layers on mediocre action sequences, unconvincing CGI and a tone of oppressive, nearly tyrannical seriousness.
That’s just the start of the bad choices here, which also include a production design that’s excessively dreary, an intrusive musical score by the usually trustworthy James Newton Howard and an over-reliance on computer-generated creatures- good and evil- who pop up out of nowhere despite having nothing to do with the movie. It’s also yet another film that tells us, over and over again, that Kristen Stewart is the most valuable, sought-after being in the universe, without showing us any reason why she would be.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” has about ten minutes of plot, spread out to over two hours: Charlize Theron is the evil queen, who holds Snow White (Stewart) prisoner until she escapes; the queen then sends the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) after her, but instead they team up, seeking to defeat the queen at the end. Also on hand is another suitor (Sam Clafsin) introduced in a childhood flashback and certain to contribute to a love triangle in the sequel- much the same as the character played by Hemsworth’s brother Liam in “The Hunger Games.”
Director Rupert Sanders, a commercial veteran earning his first-ever credit of any kind on a movie, appears to have learned everything he knows from Peter Jackson’s work, especially the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Then again, there’s a lot more Bad Jackson in here than good; I kept being reminded of that tediously long middle section in Jackson’s “King Kong” where the movie stopped dead in its tracks for 30 minutes so all the creatures could fight each other.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” plays like a knockoff of Game of Thrones, and not only because the blond queen has a similarly blond brother who’s her sidekick and dies early on. However, it’s missing all of the things- palace intrigue, intricate and dense plotting, artfully staged action- that make that show great. Not to mention, none of the seven dwarves are played by Peter Dinklage.
In fact, the dwarves aren’t dwarves at all. They’re all played by recognizable actors- including Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, and Bob Hoskins- who are not, in fact, little people. Not only is this casting unfair to the fraternity of little-person actors, but the look they’re given is just creepy and wrong. Just the sight of Ian McShane’s head CGI’d onto a dwarf’s body was such a glaring distraction that I couldn’t hear anything he was saying.
The acting is not such a strong suit either. If you thought Roberts was chewing scenery in “Mirror, Mirror,” that was nothing; Theron follows her amazing turn in “Young Adult” with a one-note, yelling-filled performance that may be a career worst.
Stewart’s lack of charisma on screen has been well-documented, but it’s especially a problem here, playing a character that really should have some. And Hemsworth, the weakest link in “The Avengers,” is a dud once again- the male lead in the Roberts film, Armie Hammer, at least had a personality.
Then there’s the script, credited to three writers, although I’d imagine many others were probably involved at various stages. At one point Stewart gives a long speech that culminates with “I would rather die than live another day of this death,” which would go down as an all-time bad movie line even if it didn’t spring from a character who had just come back from the dead.
I didn’t think there would be another Snow White movie worse than “Mirror, Mirror,” much less one released only two months later. But Tarsem’s film at least made narrative sense, and looked good to boot. “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a strong worst movie of the year candidate.